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13 March - 21 April 2024

UNIT London

In Greek mythology, the Charites or Graces were goddesses associated with ideas of femininity, fertility, virtue, generosity, joy and creativity. Typically, only three of these goddesses are named; Euphrosyne (joy), Aglaia (beauty) and Thalia (festivity) are considered to be the daughters of Zeus and are frequent companions of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. These three female figures have inspired countless depictions throughout art history, spanning antiquity to the present. The trio has been tied to universal aspects of the human condition, such as the pursuit of happiness, the desire for beauty, our connection to nature and the importance of creative expression. In celebration of Women’s History Month and the arrival of spring, Unit stages a contemporary re-examination of the timeless mythological theme in a new group exhibition, The Three Graces.

Perhaps most famously depicted in Botticelli’s Primavera (Spring), the Three Graces have also appeared in works by Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, Pablo Picasso, Niki de Saint Phalle, Kehinde Wile and Yinka Shonibare, among others. Often depicted nude and entwined in a close embrace, the Three Graces have come to symbolise idealised beauty and femininity. In recent times, however, the subject has been associated with feminist and political ideas. The image of the three goddesses has been used to ask viewers to reconsider their preconceptions of archetypal beauty and the human form.

The Three Graces therefore gathers together a group of artists who are revisiting this common theme alongside broader mythological tropes, considering how these images can be reevaluated and reconfigured through a contemporary mindset. Jake Wood-Evans is known for his reimaginations of art historical images. His reincarnation of the Three Graces reveals ghostly figures who swim before us as visions from the past. Through the fluidity of oil paint, Wood-Evans seeks to extend a contemporary understanding to these art historical narratives, inviting us to revisit them not as fleeting relics, but as evolving entities shaped by our personal identities. In contrast, Helen Flockhart’s work explores more specific images of nymphs, such as Eos the personification of dawn and Chloris who was abducted and assaulted by Zephyrus, the West Wind. Flockhart’s paintings examine the dissonate beauty and amorality of mythology, considering the classical attitudes to women that have seeped into contemporary consciousness. Similarly, Paula Turmina explores a metaphorical landscape in which elven or nymph-like figures seem to merge with the nature around them. Her paintings are reminiscent of the myth in which Daphne, a nymph, metamorphoses into a laurel tree in order to escape the unwanted advances of the God, Apollo.

Francesco Zanatta’s artworks focus on the ancient Greek work, Kairos, meaning “the right or critical moment”. His representation of flowers as harbingers of spring overlaps with depictions of archery in ambiguous mythological settings, melding the cyclical and precise timing of a new season with the exact moment in which an arrow penetrates a target. Nooka Shepherd’s work also considers realms of folklore and myth. Their works forge a path between past and present by examining hybrid figures drawn from mythology and monstrous ideas of the feminine, such as sphinxes and harpies, as alternatives to idealistic visions of beauty. In the same vein, Shaina Craft investigates ideas of bodily autonomy, myths of our own making and our connections to natural environments through a fictional world setting. The inclusion of geometric masks and body pieces seeks to subvert the typical belittlement of the female nude in visual culture while forcing viewers to slow down and look beyond the surface of these artworks. Finally, Radu’s artworks consider the ways in which mythology has shaped our present understanding of humanity. His paintings pulsate with details, examining the nature of human touch and reminiscent of the intimate embrace shared by the Three Graces. Radu Oreian’s artworks consider how technology attempts to replace human closeness in the modern world and attempt to remind viewers of the importance of physical intimacy.

Ultimately, The Three Graces demonstrates the enduring relevance of a timeless mythological image and the persistent need to reevaluate themes from the past. The artists from The Three Graces approach an age-old trope in innovative ways, reminding us of ideas that continue to be pertinent today. As such, they propel the Three Graces from mere muses to active forces that reflect and reshape our lived experiences. Addressing notions of female representation and societal biases, The Three Graces not only acknowledges the power of myth but harnesses it to leave an enduring mark on the canvas of our contemporary mindset.

Three Nymphs with a Cornucopia, after Rubens and Snyders - 102x125cm, oil on linen,

Three Nymphs with a Cornucopia, after Rubens and Snyders

102x125cm, oil on linen, 2024

Jake -studio shot B.jpeg
The Three Graces, after Rubens - 102x125cm, oil on linen, 2024.jpeg

The Three Graces, after Rubens

102x125cm, oil on linen, 2024

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